Florida Plant experts assist Dominica in fighting citrus greening disease

The Ministry of Agriculture with the assistance from two plant specialists from Florida is in the process of putting together a management plan to fight the citrus greening disease.

The disease which is also called the yellow dragon disease was first sighted on the island in April of this year and has so far been found in villages such as Marigot, Wesley, Soufriere, Syndicate and Pointe Mitchel.

The Ministry of Agriculture with the assistance of Caribbean Agricultural Research & Development Institute (CARDI) called in the experts from the Florida International Volunteer Corps (FAVACA) to assist with developing a strategy to fight the plague.

The citrus greening disease is caused by a bacterium and is considered by experts to be one of the most damaging diseases affecting citrus crops. The disease obstructs the flow of nutrients in citrus trees and leads many fruits to remain green, grow lopsided and taste bitter.

CARDI’s local representative Sharon Jones in an interview with GIS news on Thursday December 05th expounded on the mission of the visiting specialists.

“In April this year the greening disease was intercepted in Dominica. As a result the Ministry of Agriculture wanted some expertise to come into to Dominica to assist them in developing their integrated development plan for the control of the disease “she stated.

The CARDI official said over the past few days the experts have been making visits to affected fields across the island to assess the situation and to present workable solutions in managing the spread of the disease.

“We have gone into the field we have looked at the areas where the disease have been identified as positive and from that the experts are assisting to do a management plan to include the elimination of affected trees. They are also going to review our Citrus certification programme” Jones revealed.

One of the specialists currently on the island is Plant pathologist specialized in citrus disease Dr. Xiaoan Sun. He has had a wealth of experience working with the citrus greening disease in Florida. Dr.Sun has been charged to provide the Ministry of Agriculture with the technical assistance required in managing the disease.

Dr. Sun has revealed that the disease has been identified in non commercial parts of the island.

“From the surveys we have undertaken over the last two days it seems that we have not found any disease symptoms in commercial groves. Another thing is that the disease is only found in four locations in this country so it seems that in a short period of time we have found that the disease which is indicating that the disease may have been here for a little bit longer possibly two to three years”.

Dr. Sun says the disease may have been introduced to the island by infected grafting planting materials.

He is optimistic that there is a good chance for eradicating the disease.

“Since the spread is based upon human activities, the move of infected plant materials is not mainly caused by vectors. We will be focused on ensuring that the commercial areas of the island remain free of the disease hence the need for us to focus on the eradication of the diseases in residential areas. We still have a good chance to try to get rid of this disease we have some time which is good”.

Dr. Sun will be working alongside Entomologist Dr. Eric Rohrig from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Dr. Rohrig said the elimination of inoculums, and vector control in orchards and non-crop reservoirs are also possible solutions to managing the citrus greening disease.

“If you can remove all the trees that have been infected with the disease then the psyllids can no longer acquire it and so they can no longer spread it so it’s really a matter of eliminating all the infected material” he noted.

Rohrig said further that the effective management of the disease may require an integrated approach including use of clean planting and grafting stock.

“In order to control this disease it’s going to take a very coordinated effort between all the citizens and the Government, everyone has to work together. We are going to continually work with the Ministry of Agriculture to develop a management plan and once the management plan is in place the Ministry can provide that information to people .If they just follow their guidelines then you shouldn’t have much of a problem.”

The citrus greening disease has affected countries such as Florida, Jamaica, Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe.